Searching for a job is notoriously tough, and it gets even tougher if you’ve been without a job for a while. It can feel like you have no choice but to accept the first offer that comes along, because you have to pay rent, right? You do have to pay rent, but it’s important to not accept a position if it’s going to put you right back where you started in a few months time. To some degree, accepting a job is like accepting a date: You have to trust your instincts and hope for the best. But there are still good signs and bad signs that you can be on the lookout for while you’re interviewing. There are an also a multitude of red flags that can start waving even after you tentatively accept a job and start negotiating the terms.
Transparency and benefits
A good workplace will be as open and transparent as possible with its employees about certain matters. When they hire new people, they’ll give them details about the benefits packages rather than not saying anything and hoping they won’t sign up for things like health insurance and the matching 401(k). They’ll offer employees paid time off, even if it’s just a week or so the first year, because they know it’s not realistic to expect employees to come to work every time they get sick, especially if they have something contagious. Some people are surprised to find out that there are no federal requirements regarding paid sick leave. There are some state and city laws that require paid time off (PTO), but it’s by no means uniform, and there are still plenty of jobs where workers are penalized for daring to call in sick occasionally. Those jobs generally have other issues as well, because not giving out any PTO is a sign that the people in charge aren’t interested in even pretending to care about their employees. Instead, they care only about profits.
Look for workplaces that are progressive in regards to things like maternity and paternity leave, since the Family Medical Leave Act only requires jobs to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents. Sustainable business practices are also a positive sign, so keep an eye out for places that promote initiatives like company-wide recycling and sustainable investing.
Smaller companies don’t always have devoted Human Resources departments, which should be a reason enough to give you pause. Human Resource departments perform several functions, including making sure that the company isn’t putting themselves in legal jeopardy by, for instance, refusing to hire women or people or color. Discrimination can obviously occur even if there’s an HR department staffed by a dozen people, but it helps to have people on staff who know all about employment laws and devote a significant amount of time to making sure those laws are upheld.
Managers and team leads should also receive an education on employment law. If the office where you’re interviewing has a library of compliance training, that’s a decent sign that they take matters like harassment and workplace violence seriously. A company well-versed in those matters is more likely to have a specific plan in place if, for instance, an employee reports ongoing sexual harassment. There should be clear rules in place for disciplining offenders. It’s OK to ask what measures a workplace takes to ensure a healthy office environment for everyone. If you get a blank stare in response, then proceed with extreme caution.